Despite the groundhog seeing his shadow at the beginning of February, many parents of young adults with mental health disorders start to breathe a slight sigh of relief around this time of year. The darkest days are once again behind us and longer, lighter days allow us to let our guards down ever so slightly.
For me, the parent of a child with depression, PTSD, addiction, suicidal ideation, and the ambiguous slammer “failure to launch,” any glimmer feels like a gift.
Kids returning home
Even before the pandemic, the number of young adults living at or returning home was on the rise (up a startling 5% in 2020 alone, according to an article by Pew Research Center). And according to statistics released in February by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Division of Adolescent and School Health, youth today are facing an increasing trauma and mental health crisis.
Fellow parents and Facebook tell me this isn’t so. They say that “the norm” is the same as it’s always been: kids are supposed to graduate high school, head off to university and, degree in hand four or five years later, thrive in their independence. Thanks to Running Start, some of our child’s peers will be out of college and in the workforce in less than three years.
Not the norm for all
But some of us do not share this classic, admittedly upper class, family experience. For us, our outwardly popular, smart, engaged student was increasingly unable to stay afloat in high school. Add in a still developing hippocampus, peer pressure, a huge dose of social media and a few really bad decisions and families like mine end up in an unimaginable fight for a child’s life.
Frustratingly, even long-time friends — both ours and our childrens’ — are often not able to repeatedly risk putting their progress on hold to drop a lifeline. And ,more often than not, they cannot understand or even see the tornado happening next door.
I just want to say to parents of young adults living at home and depending on them well into their 20’s: I see you.
I see your years of trying to keep your kid alive. I see the lies, arrests, crises, rotating doctor doors and institutions, attempted monitoring of social life, medication dispersal and adjustment and the repeated lows that come along with treatment-resistant depression. I see the huge challenge the worldwide pandemic threw at you, helping to create a perfect storm of family dysfunction. I understand your inevitable inability to work full time while continually bailing the family ship.
You are not alone
I see you. And I want to offer you hope.
I have learned over these years of coping that there will be a few gem friends and providers who are willing to throw that lifeline — over and over again if needed. I’ve seen that time does heal, and slowly, ever so slowly, maturation, therapy, medication and the prospect of another spring can make today tolerable.
The fact that I can look back over the last four years and have a smiling child by my side is a true miracle. While I no longer believe in justice, I do believe in karma and for now the good days far outnumber the bad.
I can even (gasp) start to look ahead with self-care and dream about what’s next for me, for my personal care and growth. Travel, volunteering, new friendships — I now can consider all of these things with an edge of excitement rather than crippling anxiety.
You make all the difference for your child
If you are a parent of a ‘tween or teen with anxiety or depression, I urge you to normalize therapy and talk about feelings. Your doing so just may make what your adolescent experiences a little easier. For us, being involved in our child’s life, keeping them off social media as long as possible and engaging their friends and friends’ families have been lifesavers. We also discovered that offering a semi-private group hangout space with snacks helped us keep in touch with the challenges our child was facing.
What works for one family struggling with a child’s mental illness may not work for another. But being seen does help.
Things can get getter
I’ll say it again: I see you parents of chronically ill young adults. And I want you to hear loud and clear from what may still seem like a long way from the other side, that it IS possible to get better. Believe in that possibility — that inch by inch, day by day, your not-so-normal, medically-fragile kid can gain the spark of confidence needed to change their life.
They may or may not go back to school, they will have bad days and even crises, but their ability to process, utilize the tools you helped them acquire and risk getting out in the world can grow. Hold hope that years of sobriety, a steady job and fun hobbies will find your child and introduce them to happiness. What more could a parent ask?
If you are in it, you probably already know that mental health resources are increasingly available, including the national Suicide and Crisis Lifeline (call 988) and the National Sexual Assault Hotline (call 1-800-656-4673). If you are just starting the journey, keep these numbers close. And, perhaps most important, urge your child to keep their phone charged and with them at all times.
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